By Xinhua Writer Meng Na
BEIJING, April 24 (Xinhua) -- The Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, on Thursday voted to adopt revisions to the Environmental Protection Law, which gives heavier punishment to environment-related wrongdoing.
With 70 articles compared with 47 in the original law, the revised Environmental Protection Law, the first change to the legislation in 25 years, sets environmental protection as the country's basic policy.
The new law says that economic and social development should be coordinated with environmental protection and encourages studies on the impact environmental quality causes on public health, urging prevention and control of pollution-related diseases.
It says that the country should establish and improve an environment and health monitoring, survey and risk assessment mechanism.
The law gives harsher punishments to environmental wrongdoing, and has specific articles and provisions on tackling smog, making citizen's more aware of environmental protection and protecting whistleblowers.
It says citizens should adopt a low-carbon and frugal lifestyle and perform environmental protection duties, and nominates June 5 as Environment Day.
The public is encouraged to observe environmental protection laws and make their own efforts in this regard, including sorting their garbage for recycling.
The revised law will go into effect from Jan. 1, 2015.
Decades-long rapid economic development and a large population have left China with serious pollution problems.
A report issued in April showed that nearly 60 percent of monitored areas in China had "very poor" or "relatively poor" underground water quality last year. Another report issued jointly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources on April 17 showed that about 16.1 percent of the country's soil is polluted.
On April 11, more than 2.4 million people in Lanzhou, northwest China's Gansu Province, were affected by tap water that contained excessive levels of benzene.
China has "declared war" against pollution and pledged to fight it with the same determination the country battled poverty, according to the government work report submitted to the annual session of the National People's Congress in March.
The country's Environmental Protection Law has not been revised since it took effect in 1989.
The amendment was adopted after four readings. It is rare in China for a law or amendment to go through three readings and not be passed, highlighting the importance of the legislation in the country's pursuit of sustainable development.
Lawmakers said during their panel discussion that the phenomena in which the cost for observing environmental legislation is higher than violating laws widely exist, causing environmental pollution.
Xin Chunying, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, gave an example during the deliberation of the law, saying that an electricity generator complex with production capacity of 100,000 kilowatt needs to pay between 500,000 and 600,000 yuan in environmental protection fees to alleviate and control pollution.
But if the factory shuts down its pollution processing equipment and does nothing to protect the environment, it may only face a 10,000 yuan fine, she said. [ Handing out heavier punishment for environmental wrongdoing is an important principle of the new legislation, and will deter enterprises from violating the law.
The new law stipulates that enterprises will be named and shamed for breaking environmental protection laws.
It says that responsible persons would face up to 15 days detention if their enterprises dodge environmental impact assessments and refuse to suspend production after being issued a ban; fail to obtain a pollutant discharge permit but discharge pollutants, and refuse to suspend the discharge after administrative bodies issue a ban; or if they shirk supervision through means including forging monitoring data or improperly operating pollution prevention equipment. The length of detention would depend on the impact of their violations.
Responsible persons would face the same punishments if their enterprises produce or use forbidden pesticides and refuse to make corrections.
The law also proposes that organizations in charge of environmental impact assessments and supervision would bear joint liabilities if they are found to have acted fraudulently.
Local officials may be demoted or sacked, if they are guilty of misconduct, including covering up environment-related wrongdoing, falsifying data or asking others to falsify data, failing to publicize environmental information which should be made public according to law or failing to give closure orders to enterprises which illegally discharge pollutants.
If offenders' behaviors constitute crimes, they will be held criminally responsible.
The law says a daily-based fine system will be introduced to punish offenders.
If an enterprise illegally discharges pollutants and is fined and asked to correct its wrongdoing by authorities, but refuses to make corrections, the enterprise may face a fine which accumulates daily. In the past, enterprises received a one-off fine.
CHANNEL FOR PUBLIC LITIGATION
The new law allows public litigation and expands the range of subjects of public interest litigation on environmental issues.
According to the new law, the subjects could be social organizations which have registered with the civil affairs departments of governments at municipal level or above and have been engaged in public litigation on environmental issues for more than five years.
Courts should receive public litigation on environmental issues according to law, while social organizations should not seek to profit through such litigation, according to the new draft.
By promoting public interest litigation, it is hoped that the public's appeal for a better environment can be addressed through rule of law, instead of resorting to protests.
China has faced an increasing number of protests, or "mass incidents," over environmental issues in recent years. A few cities have seen residents take to the streets against paraxylene projects, which they believe are a major threat to the environment and public health. In most of the cases, the projects in question were later suspended.
CHANGES OF OTHER LAWS
China has more than 30 environment-related laws and about 90 administrative regulations concerning environmental protection. ' After the adoption of the revised Environmental Protection Law, the country's fundamental environment law, other environmental laws may also face changes.
According to the NPC Standing Committee's annual legislation plan, the air pollution prevention and control law will be revised this year.
Lawmaker Zhao Deming said air, water and soil are the basic factors of the environment. The revisions of laws concerning pollution prevention and control of air, water and soil will facilitate the implementation of the Environmental Protection Law.